Nearly 60% of US shoppers say their finances are factoring into their holiday shopping budget this year. Higher costs will curtail gift-giving plans for most consumers this year, as they feel the pinch of inflation this holiday season. Some thrifty consumers won't spend a dime. Should you join them?
According to a recent survey from Sensormatic Solutions, 57% of Americans are limiting their shopping due to their financial situation, up 14% from 2021. They also began shopping earlier, timing their purchases with store promotions.
That begs the question, just how much do we really need to spend at the year's end?
As one of our favorite Christmas characters once mused, “Maybe Christmas, he thought…doesn't come from a store. Maybe Christmas, perhaps… means a little bit more!”
If you want to try an extreme strategy that would make Scrooge proud, try a no-spend month this December to get your finances fixed up just in time for the new year.
A no-spend month is exactly what it sounds like. Whether you choose December to avoid spending on gifts or January to make up for a holiday spending hangover, pick the month best for you, and don't spend any money until the next month begins.
How drastic you are with the concept is up to you. Don't starve yourself or default on your utility bills. Do, however, avoid all unnecessary spending and be fairly strict with yourself over what you define as necessary.
Does it have to be a month? Not necessarily. You can do a one-week no-spend challenge or a 100-day no-spend challenge.
“I recommend my coaching clients pick a no-spend week instead of a whole month,” said Christine Luken, founder of The Financial Dignity Coach. “People end up procrastinating because it's hard to find an entire month when they can do it. So start with a no-spend week because you're more likely to actually do it and be successful.”
Obviously, you will have to buy food and other items such as personal care products and cleaning products. Still, it can be helpful to set boundaries around this too.
Many people decide to buy food only when they've eaten everything already in their fridge and pantry. Or they'll only buy personal care or beauty products if they run out of something specific and don't have anything else on their shelf that can function as an alternative.
In the spirit of the no-spend challenge, you should probably agree not to eat out or spend on entertainment. Of course, you can make exceptions for previously planned social events to not let other people down. Especially in December if you take advantage of invitations to holiday parties where others are footing the bill.
So that covers how to do a no-spend challenge. But why would you want to?
You'll Save Money
The most obvious benefit of a no-spend month is that you'll save money. Potentially quite a lot, at that.
A no-spend month isn't a replacement for tracking your spending and setting a proper budget, but it is one way to see just how much of your spending is discretionary or, in other words, not totally necessary.
If you lack motivation or enthusiasm for this no-spend idea, make a plan for what to do with the money you save. You might want to pay off debt, save for retirement, or save toward something important to you that there just isn't room for in your current budget.
You'll Eliminate Impulse Spending
Impulse spending carries a substantial lifetime price tag for the average American. If you're not spending, you're not impulse spending, and you may even start to reset your brain as you realize you don't really miss the buzz of those “fun” impulse buys at all.
You Might Lower Your Stress
Spending impulsively sounds like a fun thing to do, but in reality, decisions are stressful. Many of us make dozens of daily decisions about whether to spend or not and use precious energy debating with ourselves, justifying purchases, or trying to employ willpower to resist the impulse to spend.
Removing the option to spend can be surprisingly liberating. You simply don't have any extra decisions to make in that area of your life. The decision is already made: you're not spending this month.
You'll Become More Resourceful
Depending on how strict you are with yourself, you may find yourself trying new recipes, making meals from scratch, or reusing, repurposing, and upcycling what you already have.
All these things can deliver a hefty dose of self-accomplishment, not to mention being more environmentally sustainable than hitting the mall.
You'll Use What You Have
A no-spend month is a great time to re-organize your home and take stock of what you have. Many of us have pantries, medicine cabinets, and random drawers full of depletable products we don't use and eventually throw out. Learning to be less wasteful is another mini mindset reset that makes us feel better about ourselves and our choices.
You'll Rediscover That Many of the Best Things in Life are Free
A no-spend month can make you get creative with how you use your time. Many people report that it forces them to do things with their time that they'd forgotten they even enjoyed, like playing games with their kids, taking long walks in nature, and reconnecting with their significant other.
Once your entertainment budget is on hold, you'll discover (or rediscover) that some of the things you enjoy doing really are free, and some of them may even improve your health, happiness, and relationships.
And The Drawback?
A no-spend month is a great challenge, but it's tempting to see it as just that. A challenge. A short-term experiment. You may go back to your normal spending patterns the day it finishes. You may even find you spend more money immediately after a no-spend month as you “make up” for the deprivation you've been feeling.
“Spending money on things can make us feel better about our lives, and cutting away that outlet all at once may work initially only for you to relapse,” warned Blaine Thiederman, Certified Financial Planner and founder of Progress Wealth Management.
A no-spend month can be an interesting way to focus attention on how much of your day-to-day spending is unnecessary, wasteful, and even stressful. But ultimately, most of us living in consumer-oriented societies need a more permanent solution.
The ultimate goal: get to the point where there's no benefit from taking a no-spend month because you've reached a point in life where you practice considered, mindful spending almost all the time.
Reset Your Spending Habits
If you're considering a no-spend challenge, look at it as a chance to implement a total reset on your money mindset, attitudes, and spending patterns. Don't just end it and go back to your pre-challenge spending habits.
Leverage the fact that you now know you don't need to buy as much stuff as you thought you did. Switch from “no spending” to “mindful spending.” Stop, consider and assess before pulling your wallet out. Make your no-spend month a stepping stone to a lifetime of smart, considered choices when it comes to how you spend your money.
And if you do choose December as your no-spend month, you may want to get busy making handmade gifts for your family and friends to avoid becoming known as the holiday Scrooge.
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I’m a freelance writer specializing in online business, personal finance, travel and lifestyle. I also work as a content creator for hire, helping brands and businesses tell their stories, grow their audiences, and reach their ideal customers. I’ve lived, worked and studied in six countries, across three continents. Stop by my blog TheSavvySolopreneur.net to learn how to run your own (very) small business on your own terms. You can also connect with me at my website KarenBanes.com or follow me on Medium.com.